Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney’s sonnet “When All the Others Were Away at Mass” was named Ireland's best-loved poem of the past 100 years in RTÉ's A Poem for Ireland poll, carried out in 2015.

The poem is taken from Seamus Heaney's "Clearances III - In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984" and recalls a morning shared between the young author and his mother, peeling potatoes.

Heaney’s poem was selected as Ireland’s favorite two years after his death, on Aug 30 2013. Responding to the news, Heaney’s son, Mick said “We are delighted and honored that my father’s sonnet When All the Others Were Away at Mass has been voted by the public as the Poem For Ireland, particularly given the magnificent shortlist it was part of.”

President Michael D. Higgins made the announcement in front of a live audience during the filming of a special episode of RTÉ's "The Works" at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

An independent jury compiled a shortlist of ten poems chosen from public nominations. The public were then asked by RTE to vote for their favorite.

This poem is taken from Clearences, a sonnet sequence which he published in 1987 on his mother’s death. It is third in a series of eight sonnets Heaney wrote in memory of his mother, Margaret Kathleen Heaney.

When All the Others Were Away at Mass

In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984

When all the others were away at Mass

I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives –

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Is this your favorite Seamus Heaney poem? What poem would you have chosen as Ireland’s favorite?

* This article was originally published in 2015.